Faith Erin Hicks just published a fancy graphic novel, Friends with Boys, about a home-schooled girl who’s attending public school for the first time—and has a ghost that she can’t seem to shake. But 12 years ago, Faith was just a teenager posting her work (all 700 pages of it!) on the Internet. Here’s Faith on how she got her start as a comics genius. When you’re done, check out the Friends with Boys website, where you can read the entire webcomic for FREE until March 6!
I make comics for a living. This is a very exciting thing, and most definitely my dream job. Before I made comics for a living, I made comics for fun, and they were online comics. (Actually, I still make comics for fun.) Making an online comic is a very excellent thing, and I highly recommend it. It’s a great way to stretch your creative muscles, to engage with an internet community, and if you’re lucky—like me—it can lead you to a living making comics.
In the beginning, I made an online comic called Demonology 101. It was not very well drawn at first. Most people do things because they’re good at what they’re doing, but I was pretty terrible at making comics. I barely knew how to draw, and hadn’t read many comics that weren’t kids’ comics, like Tintin.
But it didn’t matter that the comics I was making were kind of terrible: they were free, and I was doing them because I wanted to. I liked comics a lot, but didn’t read very many; I wasn’t into superhero comics and didn’t have access to much else. So I decided to make my own comic, one I thought I would enjoy reading. Demonology 101 was kind of a Buffy the Vampire Slayer ripoff. (I was big into Joss Whedon at the time. He was the only guy doing the teenage supernatural thing. He originated the dreamy vampire boyfriend.) It was set in high school, and there were supernatural shenanigans and mysteries and stuff.
The “and stuff” was the part I hadn’t quite figured out. For a long time, I didn’t plan out my online comics or give them a proper plotline. I’d just write and draw the comic based on what interested me that week. I do not recommend this type of comic making! It leaves you scrambling around trying to make sense of character action and other nonsense late in the story. It’s much better to have your plot neatly planned out in the beginning.
Every week, I drew Demonology 101 pages. It was usually only a couple of pages a week, depending on how much free time I had. (I was in school, so sometimes had to bail on the comic due to homework.) I usually drew the comics sitting on my bed, in an 8-by-11 inch sketchbook, before scanning the pages into my computer and uploading them to my website. I’d do character sketches in the margins of my notebooks in class, and think up new plotlines while walking to school. I still do a lot of my thinking about making comics while walking; there’s something about the physical act of walking that jogs my creative brain. So if you’re ever stuck for an idea, go for a walk. If I was really enjoying drawing a particular section of my comic, I’d stay up late on Friday or Saturday night, working away on it. Yeah, I was a nerd.
Back when I was doing Demonology 101, there weren’t awesome sites like Tumblr or Blogspot or Deviantart, which make it really easy to post your work online and find readers. So I would doggedly post my pages one by one to the internet, and then wait around to see if anyone noticed. To my surprise, some people did. I slowly gained readers as the comic grew. It meant a lot to me, receiving an email from someone who’d enjoyed the comic, and hearing which characters they liked best. Sometimes readers sent me fanart. A couple of readers even dressed up as my characters for Halloween.
Almost every Sunday for the next five years, I updated my comic. When I was finished, it was 700 pages long. Through writing and drawing those 700 pages, I’d taught myself how to draw (sort of), built a little corner on the internet for myself, and learned a ton about comics. I’d also fallen in love with creating comics, and knew that I wanted to make them for the rest of my life.
If you’re at all interested in making comics, you should start off by doing it online. Even if you don’t get internet famous—I certainly didn’t; my following is modest, though made up of lovely people—it’s always worth it to spend time on your own creative pursuits and develop your skills. You never know what you’ll learn or where you’ll end up. I never thought I’d be making comics for a living, but I am, and it’s because I decided to put some of my work online, nearly 12 years ago.
And whether you want to make comics or write a novel, my advice to you is the same. It’s very simple: you must put your butt in a chair, sit in front of your desk, and do your work. I spent a lot of time on Demonology 101. I remember many Sunday afternoons, drawing away while The Simpsons played endlessly in the background. There are no shortcuts. You have to be willing to sit and make each page. And some days you won’t want to do it. You’ll drag yourself to your desk and mutter angrily while you draw. Why are you spending all this time on this stupid project, when you could be doing something fun on this nice Sunday afternoon? But you stick with it, and work and work, and suddenly the pages are complete and you post them on the web and you have done it! And there are your readers, enjoying what you’ve made and passing the link around to other people, and sometimes even making their own work inspired by yours. For a moment everything is amazing in the world.
Then you start thinking about next week.